Chapter 4: The End of Term
Thoughts of Pudding by Brian64.
Chapter 4: The End of Term.
Sunday 23rd June, 1996.
"Hey, Harry! Are you planning on getting up anytime soon? Everyone else has already gone down to breakfast."
Harry just muttered something incomprehensible and rolled over, hoping that Neville would take his cheerfulness downstairs. He hated the last day of term with a passion, as it signalled his return to Durzkaban.
"Come on, Harry – they're not going to hold the Express for you, and you'll have to stay here all summer."
"Chance would be a fine thing," Harry muttered under his breath, realising his attempt to return to sleep was probably futile. But that wouldn't stop him from trying.
"Alright, Harry, don't say I didn't warn you… Aguamenti."
A stream of cold water hit Harry on the head and he shot up, spluttering for a minute, before Neville eventually cancelled his charm. "Oops, guess I forgot the counter-charm for a minute there. Sorry," he said with a smirk.
"Oh, bollocks!" Harry exclaimed. "What the hell did you do that for, Neville? Why aren't you down at breakfast yourself and leaving me alone?"
"I was down at breakfast, and enjoying the company of my other friends as well," Neville replied. "But since I emptied my plate before Ron, I was 'volunteered' to fetch you. And, Harry…" Neville paused for effect, "as scary as you are, Hermione made a point of reminding me that she knows lots more spells than you. Then Luna added that she was going to find some spiny-legged… whatsits to infest my boxers if I didn't bring you back posthaste.
Neville's brow furrowed for a second before continuing. "I'm not exactly sure what Ron said as he still had at least a sausage or two in his mouth at the time." He shrugged off the memory, looking unconcerned. "So, is it going to be a Petrificus and a Mobilicorpus, or will you come along quietly?"
Harry just gaped and blinked as his friend's monologue continued, then at Neville's question, he wisely decided not to test Neville's resolve. "Alright, alright… can I at least grab a quick shower, or would you prefer to just finish what you started with your wand?" He asked Neville, not particularly graciously. His morning grump was still in full swing.
Neville obligingly raised his wand.
"Err, wait... No, that's okay, Neville, I was just kidding," Harry said quickly, hands held out in front of him in the classic 'stop, calm down' gesture. "Bloody hell, Neville, I've never known you to be quite so… umm… bugger, I don't know how to describe it," Harry said uncertainly.
"Assertive? Confident, maybe?" Neville offered.
"Yeah, that'll do," Harry agreed.
Neville shrugged. "I realised after that night at the ministry that it was time I grew up. Besides, you do realise that the six of us held off twelve Death Eaters? We're heroes! Well, I mean, you've always been, but I got an owl from Gran and she said she'd never been prouder of me. She said… she said my parents would've been proud too, and… I… I want to believe her."
"I was there, Nev, remember? There's absolutely no question of it – they'd be proud as hell! I know I was, err – am... oh, bugger it... You know what I mean!" Harry rubbed at his eyes. It was way too early in the morning for him to have to make any sense. "I'm going to grab a shower," he decided.
He started grabbed some clean clothes and was about to head off when something occurred to him.
"Hey, when did you get a new wand? I thought yours broke?"
"It did," Neville said with a sigh. "Ginny loaned me hers when they sent me up to get you. She thought I might need it for some 'extra encouragement'. She insisted, actually. I guess she was right," he said, now grinning at him.
Harry reached over and tossed his wet pillow at him. "I'll meet you down there soon," he said, moving off into the bathroom.
"No rush," Neville called out to him amiably. "I can use the time to tell them how the 'extra encouragement' worked out!"
"Bugger! No, wait! Give me five minutes, Nev – that's all I'm asking... Neville? You still there? Oh, bollocks! I bloody HATE the last day of term!"
Racing into the Great Hall, it didn't take Harry long to find the others. It also didn't take him long to realise that Luna had joined the Gryffindors for breakfast, as her high peals of laughter rang out from the group of Gryffindors clustered around a wildly gesticulating Neville.
Sighing tragically, Harry summoned up his Gryffindor bravery and headed over to join his friends. As he reached the table, Ginny and Luna slid apart to make a space for him to sit down. Hermione was sandwiched between Ron and Neville on the other side of the table.
"Morning, guys. What's up?" he asked.
"You are, finally!" Ginny replied, sending Luna off into further peals of laughter, as though this was the funniest jest she'd heard all year. This caused a great deal of chuckling amongst the others. Against the wishes of his grump, Harry couldn't help but chuckle along as well. There was something about Luna's laughter that he found infectious.
Hermione reached over and grabbed his plate, swapping it with the full plate in front of her. "Here, Harry, I saved you some breakfast before it all disappeared," she said, giving a nod in Ron's direction.
"Thanks, Hermione," Harry said gratefully, and started to tuck into his eggs.
As he ate, he listened to the conversations going on around him. Luna was explaining some article or quiz in the Quibbler to Ginny, who appeared to be at least partially interested in it from the questions she asked. Ron, on the other hand, was trying to convince Neville that the Cannons were going to be a 'dead cert' for the finals now that they were going to have Gudgeon coach some new recruit they'd picked up. Hermione though, seemed to be having trouble deciding which of those conversations interested her the least, and frequently stared at Harry's breakfast plate as though willing the food to vanish so that she could talk to him.
"Oh, good grief, Potter! Haven't you surrounded yourself with enough losers already, without attracting them from other houses as well?"
Harry gritted his teeth against Malfoy's arrogant drawl. It always managed to push his buttons, and he wondered whether Malfoy practiced his snarkiness, or if it came naturally.
The Slytherin reached over and lifted some of Luna's hair, as though inspecting the strands. "Well, I suppose she is at least a pureblood, even if– urk!" Harry had glanced at him, and when he saw what Malfoy was doing, had leapt to his feet, his hand shooting out and around Malfoy's throat, rage twisting his features.
"You touch her again, Malfoy, and so help me, I'll–"
"Potter! Release him immediately!"
Harry turned his cold stare from Malfoy to Professor Snape, who was coming in fast strides towards the Gryffindor table. He had reflexively squeezed a little tighter at the sight of the hated Potions Master, but released his grip on Malfoy's throat as ordered.
"I'll see you expelled for this!" Snape hissed at him.
Harry just stared at him and didn't respond. It wasn't as though he hadn't heard that line before.
"Well, what do you have to say for yourself?" Snape demanded.
"About what?" Harry asked.
"What do you have to say about your impending expulsion, you foolish boy?"
Harry shrugged. "Nothing," he replied.
"So, you admit you deserve expulsion then?" Snape practically crowed. Beside him, Malfoy had a look that suggested his Christmas had come early.
"That isn't what I meant," Harry replied, struggling to stay calm. I'm not giving those gits the satisfaction, he thought to himself.
"Is that so?" Snape sneered. "Then by all means, explain yourself."
"I have nothing to say, since you don't have the power to expel me. If you did, then I'd have been on the train home before I'd been sorted in my first year. As it is, all you can do is yell and bluster, since even the house points are done for the year." Harry paused to consider something. "And since we are leaving in about an hour, you don't even have time to allocate any detentions or punishments."
Snape looked at him as though considering whether he would be able to justify drawing his wand and cursing Harry on the spot.
"However, since I'm sure you will at least insist on an apology…" Harry turned to Malfoy, and mimicked the Slytherin git's usual drawl and manner.
"Malfoy, I apologise. I suppose it's not your fault you are such a foul git. Having been raised by Death Eaters, what else could you be?" He looked Malfoy up and down with a sneer. "Then again, I suppose it could be the inbreeding… My Aunt Marge always said that if there's something wrong with the bitch, then there's something wrong with the pup."
Snape snarled and reached out, grabbing Harry's robes.
"Professor Snape!" Minerva McGonagall's voice rang out. "I'll thank you to not manhandle my students!"
Snape released Harry and stepped back with an angry glare.
"Potter! With me. Now!" McGonagall said, walking off as briskly as she could with her cane before Snape had a chance to say or do anything else. Harry smirked at Malfoy and followed his head of house.
McGonagall led him into her office, and sat down behind her desk, leaving him standing.
"Potter, what could you possibly have been thinking?"
Harry shrugged. As satisfying as it was to talk back to Snape and give Malfoy back some of his own medicine, he knew that it came with a price. They could get away with it, though he never could. That's just the way things were.
"What do you want to hear, Professor? For five years, Malfoy has done nothing but provoke and insult me and my friends. Yet none of the professors do anything to curb him, and we are always the ones that end up in trouble."
"Surely you exaggerate the situation?"
Harry just muttered under his breath.
"What was that?" she asked.
"I said I don't know why you bother asking!" Harry replied angrily. "It's not as though you're actually going to do anything about it, is it?"
McGonagall looked shocked. She'd never known Harry to be so angry with her.
"My first year; I came to you to tell you the stone was going to be stolen. Did you believe me? No – you didn't even bother to hear our reasons. My friends and I had to go and save it ourselves. Oh, and let's not forget that was the year we got fifty points off each, and a bloody detention in the forbidden Forest – and for what? Walking the halls after curfew? Unicorns were being injured or killed by something in that forest – and yet you sent a bunch of first years to spend the night out there with just Hagrid to protect us! What were you thinking putting children at risk like that?"
Harry took some slight comfort as McGonagall paled, before he started pacing in his anger, his mostly rhetorical question already forgotten. Years of frustration had been topped off by his year of dealing with Umbridge, the ministry, and the prophecy, and he'd had enough of trying to bottle it up. The anger he'd had during his rant in Dumbledore's office was coming back to him as well. Damn Malfoy, and damn Snape as well for doing this to him!
"You have a right funny way of looking after your Gryffindors, you know! I hate Snape's guts, but it couldn't be said he doesn't look after his Slytherins! I tried to do as you said around Umbridge this year, and look what it got me!"
He thrust his fist under McGonagall's nose, and, at first, she thought he was going to hit her. Then she made out the scars on the back of his hand. I must not tell lies.
"Where... how did you get those…?"
"Umbridge made me write lines with this quill she had that wrote with my blood!"
McGonagall gasped. "A blood quill…" She tried to regain her composure, with little success. "Why didn't…"
"Why didn't I tell you?" Harry asked sarcastically. "Would it have done any good? You'd already proved how well you listen in my first year, and besides, you were the one that gave me a biscuit and told me to keep my head down after I delivered her note. Out of mind and out of sight seems to be your attitude to everything! You know, I've had five years of abuse from Snape, and probably lost more bloody house points in that class than most entire houses do. Have you ever followed up on the unfairness of that? Do you even care that he makes a mockery of the house points system? That he abuses us in his class and even drops my potions deliberately just so he can grade me zero? Gah! Why do I even bother…?"
A chime was heard, signalling that the coaches would be departing for the Hogsmeade station in thirty minutes.
He stopped his pacing and returned to standing in front of McGonagall's desk. "So what happens now, Professor? By all means, keep me here at school and assign me punishments. Whatever you have in mind won't be any worse than what I'll have to put up with at the Dursleys, where I can look forward to resuming near-starvation and a list of chores every day that would make a house-elf sigh."
McGonagall seemed almost speechless. "Harry, I… I will follow up the things you've said to me… and I will see what I can do about the… the problems you… you've raised. For now, I… I think you should go and get your things and meet up with your friends. I'll talk to the headmaster when he returns, and I'll make sure you're not expelled."
Harry gave her a wry, humourless grin. "I don't have to worry about being expelled, Professor. Our dear headmaster won't let his weapon out of his control after all."
McGonagall stared at him. "Weapon? What weapon, what…?"
Harry looked at her in disbelief. "You mean, he hasn't even told you the prophecy yet? You know, the one that starts; The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… that one? Well, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. The old codger didn't bother telling me about it until after Sirius was dead. You'd think he might have made a bit of an effort to train me up, though. I'm not likely to have much of a chance to vanquish anyone, let alone a Dark Lord with the generally pathetic Defence professors he's been hiring. You have to laugh, don't you – the ruddy Death Eater that impersonated Moody did the best job, though I did like Remus..."
McGonagall had gone white, and her throat had tightened up completely. She was unable to speak, and could only stare at him, stunned at what she'd just heard.
"Well, I suppose I'd best go, then?" He waited as though giving her a chance to say something, and when she didn't respond, she watched him walk over to the door and open it.
Before he left though, he paused as though something else had occurred to him and he turned back to her with his hand still on the doorknob. "You know, regardless of what I just said, I am still glad you're back, Professor. We were all outraged at what Umbridge did to you when she went after Hagrid." He then turned and left the office, closing the door behind him.
McGonagall slumped in misery. His claims were outrageous, surely? Yet… could she have failed her Gryffindors so badly? Harry seemed to think so. She took out some parchment and jotted down some notes to remind herself of what he'd just said. She owed it to herself to review his claims.
And if he was right? she asked herself. Well, in that case, things would need to change! What about that prophecy? She shook her head. Albus was going to have some serious explaining to do.
Harry raced up the stairs to the Gryffindor common room to get his trunk, only to find everything and everyone gone from the dorms. Turning around, he raced down to the main entrance to find one Thestral-drawn carriage, four Gryffindors, one Ravenclaw, and a Care of Magical Creatures professor waiting for him.
"Alrigh', Harry? Best be gettin' on board 'fore yeh miss the train."
"Thanks, Hagrid," Harry replied gratefully, "and thanks for waiting, guys."
"No worries, mate" Ron responded. "We took care of your trunk too. We knew McGonagall wouldn't keep you here."
"Yeah, you got that right," Harry said, seeing no need to explain why. As they all got on board, Harry found himself sandwiched between Hermione and Luna.
As the carriage started moving, Luna turned to him and gave him a tight hug and started shaking. It took a moment for him to realise she was sobbing silently, and when he did, he hugged her back.
"Hey, Luna, what's wrong?" he asked, concerned.
"Oh, Harry, I'm so sorry you got into trouble because of me. They s-said that you would be expelled!"
"Well, you don't have to worry about that; I'm not going to be expelled, and it wasn't your fault anyway. It was Malfoy's fault for provoking me, and my own fault for letting him. You didn't do anything wrong, so no more tears, okay? How are you going to cheer me up with all those tears leaking out of you?"
She squeezed him tighter in response, but then relaxed. Giving him a kiss on the cheek, she loosened her grip on him and pulled back a little. Drawing her arms back as well, she ended up hugging his arm to her, and seemed content to keep a grip on it as long as she could.
"Well, I want to thank you for standing up for me, Harry. It made me feel special to know that someone cared enough about me to do that."
"We're your friends, Luna. We'd all stand up for you. I just happened to be closer this time, that's all," Harry said with a smile, as the others nodded their agreement with his words.
Harry noticed that Luna smiled at the others, but didn't make any move to release his arm and try to hug them. Probably too hard to do that in the carriage, he thought, while the part of his mind that was enjoying Luna's attention whispered, Good!
As the carriage made its way to Hogsmeade station, Luna made herself a little more comfortable, and in the process, she adjusted her grip on his left arm. Her right hand had snaked lower to hold his hand, while her left clutched his upper arm close to her chest. Her head rested on his shoulder.
Harry closed his eyes and leaned back against the seat as the carriage rocked its way to the station, and tried to ignore the fact that his upper arm was in contact with certain soft portions of Luna's body. He listened to Ginny as she started reciting a Quibbler article, and tried to clear his mind of his anger and frustration. He only had this time and the trip back to London with his friends, and he didn't want to waste that time being angry.
By the time they reached Hogsmeade, he thought he had done a good job of relaxing. Though if he were truthful, the warm, blonde girl on his left had far more to do with it than anything he'd done.
Walking through the Hogwarts Express, Harry realised that, as the last students to board, they'd never find an empty compartment so they could all sit together on the trip back. As they passed by a half empty compartment containing some Hufflepuffs from the DA, the door opened.
"There you are, Harry!" Susan Bones exclaimed. "Well, come in! Ernie, Hannah, and I were holding this one for you! We're travelling with Justin and the others in the next compartment."
Hermione answered for Harry, who looked dumbfounded, "Thank you, Susan, that was very kind of you! All of you... I'm sure our Stupefied friend here will tell you the same thing once we Rennervate him," she said, then nudged Harry.
"Yes, very kind… Umm, well, thanks, Susan," Harry said. He was still trying to process the fact that they'd gone out of their way to save a compartment for them.
"You're welcome, Harry. We still owe you for the DA," she said, smiling at him in farewell as she left for the adjacent compartment. Hannah followed with a smile for him as well. "Bye, Harry!" she said, waving as she walked past, following her best friend.
Ernie clapped him on the shoulder as he too left the compartment. "This is the least we could do for you, Harry."
The group piled in and sat down, seated in the same way that they had in the carriage. Luna regained her possession of Harry's arm, and Harry couldn't think of any reason not to let her. He had asked her to cheer him up, and it seemed she'd decided this was the way she was going to do it. It was working, and before long Harry dozed off almost reluctantly while listening to the friendly conversation around him.
He woke instantly at the sound of the carriage door slamming open, and saw Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle just outside the doorway.
"So, Potter, enjoying your last ride on the Express, are you? Of course, even if you weren't expelled, it's not like you would live through the summer now that–"
A large assortment of spells hit Malfoy and his goons, and they were blasted down the corridor. Susan, Hannah, Ernie, Justin, Anthony and Terry walked into view, wands in hand. Terry poked his head in on the way past. "Sorry about the interruption, guys – we'll just take out the rubbish." Everyone laughed. He waved at them in farewell, and closed the door.
As Harry relaxed back again, he thought about all the oddities that had been occurring this morning. It could all be coincidence, he thought to himself, and yet not one of his friends had asked him about his meeting with McGonagall. He'd have bet Galleons that either Ron or Hermione would have asked him. Come to think of it, they hadn't asked him how he had been feeling this morning either – that was new.
It was almost as though they had decided not to ask him any questions, and would let him decide what and when to talk to them about things. If that was the case, shouldn't he tell them what had happened this morning? Well, part of it at least, he decided. He owed them some explanation.
Harry cleared his throat. "So, who wants to hear about how I told McGonagall off this morning?" he asked.
He looked around the compartment and counted four dropped jaws and one smile.